Introducing Hilltop Heritage Middle School
Hilltop Heritage Middle School

Jason Lee Middle School will become Hilltop Heritage Middle School officially on Oct. 6.

Join us for a celebration, hosted by students, community members and the Puyallup Tribe. The Oct. 6 event at 4 p.m. features light refreshments as we commemorate this historical change at the 96-year-old school.


Hilltop Heritage sits on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup Tribe. It serves as a fixture in the Hilltop community, the city’s first neighborhood. Overlooking Commencement Bay and downtown, the Hilltop has been a racially diverse home to mostly working-class community members.

In 2020, Tacoma Public Schools received requests from community members to rename the middle school due to the history surrounding Jason Lee, a missionary who developed the first boarding school in the Northwest for Native American children, seeking to convert those students.

Then-Superintendent Carla Santorno deemed the request worthy of consideration and, following Board policy, she sent the issue to Jason Lee’s Acting Principal Michael Knuckles and Stewart Middle School Principal Kim Messersmith. They formed a committee, which conducted a survey and reviewed naming options.

In the committee’s report to Superintendent Santorno, committee members described the importance of renaming the school:

  • Jason Lee Middle School was constructed in 1924-25 at the former site of the College of Puget Sound.
  • It was named after one of the first missionaries in the Pacific Northwest, who arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1834 and was the first to establish boarding schools and missions to convert the local Native American people.
  • These institutions are notorious for the cultural genocide and abuse they inflicted on Indigenous peoples across the continent. Young children were stripped of their clothes, their hair was cut short, and their names replaced with Christian ones. These schools erased oral histories, native languages, and inflicted a trauma felt through generations.

The Tacoma School Board of Directors voted unanimously June 24 to rename the school. The middle school will retain its Bobcat mascot and its red and black school colors.

Media Contact

Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


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